One of the responsibilities that comes with being the head football coach at a Power Five program is having the ability to relate with your student-athletes. It’s a dilemma Dan Mullen faced this offseason when describing the separate demeanors he asked of the Gators.
“We’ve got to get a little, a Jekyll and Hyde mentality, or they understood the Incredible Hulk a little bit more. Around campus, we should be like Dr. Banner, you know what I mean?,” Mullen said. “They know that one. They’ve remade the movies. I’m not talking about Lou Ferrigno now.
“He’s in all the Avenger movies now. But, then when we go out to the practice field, we cross that line. We need to flip a little switch and kind of become the Incredible Hulk where I kind of, I can’t control that violence and getting out there and going and hitting somebody and getting after people and how hard we go.”
Mullen’s updated metaphor wasn’t lost on sophomore defensive lineman Elijah Conliffe, who notably wore a Marvel T-shirt during his UF commitment ceremony. After appearing in eight games last year and recording two tackles, Conliffe earned the start at nose tackle in Florida’s season opener against Charleston Southern, where he assisted on a tackle. Although he didn’t start Florida’s first defensive series against Colorado State, Conliffe is slated for a critical role in Florida’s defense this season, and it’s his embrace of a violent mindset on the field that has accelerated his development.
“I just like the way (The Incredible Hulk) goes about things. He is just a destructive animal, so he flips on a cause, and he isn’t really scared of anyone — except for that last Avengers movie where they kind of played him with Thanos, but I’m going to let it slide,” Conliffe said, adding he can relate with the mindset behind the character. “When I get angry I get out of control, that’s why I try to control myself, because I know I need to get the reads, tell my teammates what they are supposed to be doing, so I kind of have to keep a cool head.”
Conliffe struggled to maintain his Banner-esque composure after a momentous play Saturday. The Gators, holding a 3-0 lead late in the first quarter, looked to stop the Rams’ potent offense from driving. Colorado State quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels looked set to throw, but a bad snap led to a fumble, on which Conliffe swiftly dove. Perhaps it was the joy of recording his first collegiate turnover, but Conliffe opted to remain on the ground seemingly hugging the football rather than celebrating with his teammates. It turned out to be more than just his first turnover in college.
“At first I was trying just to get up, and then I was like, this was my first fumble recovery ever since I’ve been playing football,” Conliffe said. “I couldn’t hold up.”
Now, Conliffe will focus on continuing to improve, as Florida hits the road to face Tennessee. Regardless if he’s starting, Conliffe is looking to capitalize on his snaps to maintain his development, and it seems maintaining the Hulk-like mentality will only benefit him and the Gators — as long as he remembers to channel his inner Dr. Bruce Banner when the situation calls for pleasantries.
“I think I can get better,” Conliffe said. “I have to get better on my double teams. I’ve been sort of stable, but I have to get even stabler. I have to be able to hold that middle down for my teammates so they can come through and make the plays they’re supposed to make. There’s still improvement, but we’re going to get there through work.”